On Strips: Dilbert Guest Strips?

By | Friday, December 25, 2015 Leave a Comment
I missed this a couple weeks ago, but Dilbert creator Scott Adams is looking to take about a month off to work on some other projects, so he's put on a call to see if anyone would be interested in doing guest strips during that period. He states early on that it would be a paid gig, so he's not trying to pull a "for exposure" line of bullshit or anything, which is cool.

But then his request gets... uncomfortable. He starts by saying that he's looking to showcase some other perspectives...
I don’t want you to produce the normal Dilbert comic. I want you to introduce a new character or a new perspective so we see something entirely different. I’d love to see any workplace perspective that is not a generic white guy. Show me a new point of view – female, gay, Latino, African-American – whatever you want. Introduce a new character and see if it sticks.
Not exactly elegant wording there, but I suppose the intent is... is 'sincere' the right word? Not exactly, but it seems like he's trying to respond to criticisms of misogyny and white-washing in a positive manner.

But the "see if it sticks" part rings pretty false to me. I mean, he's offering people a week-long gig on the strip. Even if you dropped the entire current cast of Dilbert for the whole week to focus on the more diverse cast you were trying to ham-fistedly insert into Dilbert, a week's not enough time to "see if it sticks." That's one of the reasons why syndicates have aspiring cartoonists submit at least TWO weeks of strips to even be considered for anything. And, hell, one of the last big "hits" of strips, Pearls Before Swine, ran exclusively online for a full year before it was felt that there was enough support to put it into print! Does Adams really think fans of what Dilbert has been for the past quarter century will suddenly rave about a new and totally different type of character that's suddenly dropped in for a week?

Adams continues...
For background, the reason Dilbert lacks diversity is because the market does not yet allow a white male to write humor about well-organized minority groups. The problem is that all comic characters have exaggerated and stereotyped flaws. That’s what makes them funny. I can write about white-guy-nerd flaws because I am one. And I can write about white guy leaders who are jerks because leaders have power. But I could not introduce a gay or African-American character and assign that character a stereotypical flaw. The market is not yet mature enough for that.
So what Adams is saying here is that he's not allowed to present any minority characters because he's white? And that the only way for a minority character to be funny is if they rely on existing stereotypes?

Look, I know the newspaper funnies aren't exactly a sea of diversity representation, either on the page or off. But haven't other white creators done just fine adding minority characters WITHOUT resorting to stereotypes? Franklin in Peanuts; Lt. Flap in Beetle Bailey; Oliver in Bloom County; Marcus, Phoebe and Eugene in FoxTrot; Lawrence in For Better or Worse; Caulfield in Frazz... It's not as long a list as it should be, certainly, but my point is that being a cishetero white person doesn't mean you can't introduce non-cishetero white characters and it doesn't mean that you have to rely on bad stereotypes.

And I think that seems to be the thing that Adams has failed to grasp when people criticize the "generic white guy" approach he has with Dilbert. The absence of diversity in his strip is a problem only in part because he doesn't even think about representing a broader population; the more significant problem is that when he IS forced to think about it, he can't come up with anything besides bad stereotypes. He's not just ignoring these groups; he's not even thinking about these groups as people! In his mind, they're these broad monoliths of ugly stereotypes.

Here's the killer part of Adams' request towards the end...
Realistically, I will probably find some cartoonists through my industry contacts, but I wanted to spread a wider net just in case there is some hidden talent lurking.
So he's not really going to give your submission that much consideration anyway? He's going to rely on the connections within the decidedly cishetero white boys club to look for diversity? Anything I suggested earlier about sincerity or responding positively? Chuck that out the window.
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